MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - Moss Point police call it putting "unity" back in "community." To help teach children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, this year the police department launched a new DARE program at Escatawpa Upper Elementary School. On Thursday the school recognized its first DARE graduates.
DARE officer Darius Wilson personally presented every fifth grader at the school with a certificate celebrating successfully completing the DARE program.
"I learned everything about drugs and the health effects it can do to you," said student Derion Anderson.
Officials said this is the right age to start teaching kids about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.
"This is where they're coming into puberty and they're impressionable," said Wilson. "We know that there are a lot of negative influences coming at them. We've got to fight back with positive influences for our community and for our kids."
Getting to graduation day wasn't easy. In the beginning, Wilson dealt with a lot of discipline issues. The principal offered to allow him to send the misbehaving students to the office, but Wilson refused. He didn't want a single child to miss learning about how to make good life choices.
"I want you to know that I have a new respect for teaching," Wilson said. "I went through a very extensive training of my own for the DARE officer training, but you really don't know what you have until you go out there. These kids right here, they really taught me a lot about myself as I was able to learn from them as well. That's going to help me as well as I go forward and continue with the next group of kids."
The students said the way Wilson never gave up on them is a lesson that will stick with them forever.
"It meant a lot to me. Like he really touched my heart when he said things about drugs," Derion said.
"He taught some important lessons. That's why and we need more of that, and as we grow older I'll always remember it and keep it and cherish it," said student Chloe Batiste.
The DARE program also has an anti-bullying curriculum.
"We wanted them to stand up for each other. Not turn the other cheek. We wanted them to hold each other accountable," said Wilson. "If you see something going wrong, stand up for your classmates and report it. No kid comes to school to be bullied. No parent sends their kid to the school to be bullied."
"It's our responsibility as educators, as police officers, as community representatives and as students to make sure we stop the bullying," said Wilson. "Bullying can only be stopped by the people. There's no other way. There's no amount of referrals, there's no amount of disciplinary action. It's going to take the people to stop bullying. "
Moss Point police said they were able to launch the DARE program in two schools thanks to a $270,000 grant from the state Department of Public Safety. Chief Keith Davis said he would like to thank Alan Santa Cruz and Joyce Word for approving the application.